Daniel Abraham’s debut novel, A Shadow in Summer, is the first book in The Long Price Quartet. The next two books, A Betrayal in Winter and An Autumn War, have been released and the final book The Price of Spring will be out in July 2009. Even though he is a relatively new novelist, Abraham has written a lot of short fiction and been involved in several writing projects, such as the new Wild Cards books (his sections in Inside Straight are the reason I picked up this novel) and Hunter’s Run, co-written with George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois.
The Khaiem train young men who prove to be powerful yet compassionate to become poets – not those who write verse but those who magically bind an idea in a physical form known as an andat. The city of Saraykeht has an andat that gives it enormous economic advantage. Seedless, also known as Sterile and Removing-The-Part-That-Continues, is primarily used for removing seeds from cotton effortlessly, so they do not have to be combed out manually in a time-consuming process. Since Seedless has been bound to serve against his will, he perceives himself as a slave and schemes to become free of his master, Heshai-kvo.
A Shadow in Summer is a political and character heavy fantasy containing a unique world and magic. There is not focus on sword-fighting, battles and action but more plotting and relationship and character building. Instead of the common medieval European setting, the culture is influenced by Asia with much tea-drinking and formalities. When characters are interacting, they tend to take on poses conveying their emotions and thoughts, such as poses indicating delight, acceptance, or an apology.
My favorite aspect of this novel was the andats, the ideas that poets created and bound into a form. The only andat we are introduced to in this book is Seedless, who is the most fascinating character in the entire story. Seedless is largely amoral and will do almost anything to attain his freedom, yet he seems to truly care about what happens to Heshai-kvo’s student, the well-meaning Maati. His main goal seems to be to make his master miserable, and the two have a turbulent relationship.
With the exception of Seedless, the characters were missing that special something that made me really care. They were well-developed with distinct personalities and goals and I enjoyed reading about them, but I never really felt that they came alive. One of the most interesting character moments to me was in the very beginning in the prologue, but the rest of the book did not live up to that promise. Liat, the shallow young woman who was part of a love triangle with two young men, annoyed me – she didn’t seem particularly bright and the way she treated Itani really made me dislike her. She hated the fact that he was a common laborer and always tried to get him to aspire to more. This was partially because she realized he was very intelligent but it often seemed as though she were looking down on him. Fortunately, the other main female character was much better. Amat, an older woman, was a merchant’s adviser who became caught up in Seedless’s scheme when he recruited her boss. She stumbled upon the plot, tried to destroy it, and eventually lost her place in society, yet managed to make herself a new place and come out stronger for it in the end. Both Itani and Maati were likable in spite of their mutual fascination with Liat.
Even though this is the first book in a series, it is a complete novel with a clear conclusion and no cliffhanger ending.
A Shadow in Summer is a solid debut and I enjoyed it for its uncommon setting and magic. However, it did not engage me enough to make me want to run out and get the sequel, although I will most likely read it at some point.